Blood Royals 3
Niflheim, Land of the Dead, A Long Time Ago
Raylina, his wife and mate of countless centuries, was dead and gone. Sadaen’s demon heart cried out at the unexpected cruelty. How could she be taken? Why? Questions swirled through him, but each was a knife slashing through his soul.
Holding her lifeless body tight, he let the pain flood over him, out from him, did nothing to restrain it or keep it from destroying everything around him. He welcomed the rising darkness and let it whirl outward and consume the royal chambers, reaching farther, filling the marbled halls with his pain, suffering and loss. Roaring in anguish, he told all in their realm the queen was dead.
Time ceased to exist. With Raylina gone, the only truth that mattered was he had failed her, let her die, might as well have killed her. His demands had designed the end for her. Even if he hadn’t been the one to drain her soul away, he’d brought her here. He’d expected her to fill a role she’d never have seen if not for him.
His gaze landed on the Tascrina pendant resting so peacefully over her still heart. That misshapen trinity symbol and all its unwanted responsibility. How dare it touch her now after all it had done?
It had been the last of the holy weapons she’d created. The last and the greatest, a creation filled with so much of her soul that the forging of it had stolen her life. It was one weapon the Fathers of Trinity would never touch.
He resettled her carefully and unclasped the delicate chain, removing it from her narrow pale neck. When his fingers brushed the pendant, fire burst over his skin and up his arm, burning agony. And he welcomed it. Enfolding the warm metal in his fist, he held on, rocking his mate, holding the fire, and despising the fates.
Minutes or perhaps lifetimes later…
Fingers tightened over his shoulder. He looked up and met the glistening gaze of Raylina’s young sister, Delyna.
“Dear Creator.” The whispered words sounded less prayer and more curse than he’d ever heard pass the angel’s lips before. “How could she be gone? What happened?”
He couldn’t hold her blue gaze. Far too like Raylina’s. Yet behind the blue crystal, the young angel looked just as lost as he felt. It was more than just their similar blue eyes. He felt exposed before Delyna. She’d seen the truth. She’d seen his guilt.
Instead, he brushed back the curly dark hair from Raylina’s face. She’d been his fallen angel, living here in Hell and loving his demons like her own kin. She had given up everything to take on a duty never meant for her or her kind.
She’d done it all for him.
And she’d died because of that choice.
“Sadaen.” Lyna’s voice cut across his pain, ripping the wound open wide. “Sadaen, she’s gone.”
He held his mate tighter, denying the truth he didn’t want to face, wasn’t strong enough to face.
“She must be taken home.”
“You can’t have her!” he snarled at her. Black power twisted in angry tendrils along the floor. Unlike the mortal souls he and his demons worked to protect, Raylina would not be reborn. She, who could have lived forever, was now gone forever. And because of the damn holy men, the Fathers of Trinity, she could not even return to the Creator. She was forever lost, with her soul broken and trapped within their damn weapons.
“You can’t stop this, Sadaen.”
“How could you understand?” Young Lyna had been born to this new age. She might be Raylina’s sister in every way that mattered, but she couldn’t possibly understand how cruelly the world worked.
“How can I understand?” Lyna’s voice echoed angrily off the chamber walls. “She was the only family I ever had. Without her I wouldn’t even be accepted to my calling. Even with her support I face ridicule every day. Without her in my life… Without her, I have no purpose, no joy and no hope of better days. So don’t you dare tell me I can’t understand pain and loss.”
He heard it all, but it didn’t matter.
Her voice was iron. “I’m taking her soul. You can’t stop me.”
Pain, grief, and guilt warred within him. So long as his mate was in his arms it wasn’t real. It could be changed. “I can fix this.” He could control time and space and everything in between. Surely he could still save her.
“Leave it be, child. You can’t have her soul. Not now, not ever.” Settling Raylina’s body onto their bed, he devoured the beauty of her face for several long minutes before finally leaving her and the realm behind.
Lyna flinched as the swirling darkness followed its master across realms. Only after he was gone did she dare advance to kneel beside her sister. Poor Raylina. How had it come to this? And Sadaen, he was broken by Raylina’s death. Her empathy was singed by the painfully sharp guilt and despair he’d been radiating. Despair she understood, but guilt? Not as much.
Why would Sadaen feel guilt over something he hadn’t been able to control?
She wrapped her hands around Raylina’s cool fingers. Her sister was gone. Nothing could change that fact. But she could do right by Raylina now and release her soul, allowing it to return to the Creator. She opened her heart and felt for the essence of her sister.
And felt nothing.
Raylina’s soul wasn’t in her body, wasn’t there to be released.
But how could that be? What could have happened?
Only one answer came to her. Sadaen. He must have transitioned her soul like his kind did every day for mortals and demonkind. But why would he attempt such a thing? Surely he understood the difference. Even if Raylina had lived among his kind for so long, she’d never been one of them. She was Tol’daen and always would be. She was an angel not a demon.
So why had he tasced her soul? Had he thought she could be reborn like his kind could be? If so, he was wrong. His actions had destroyed her, destroyed the most important part of her.
He might be leader of his people, but this tragedy was unforgivable.
But surely he was too smart to make such a terrible mistake. He had to have known. He must have intentionally done it.
Memory of the many visions that had been plaguing Raylina in the last few years jumped through her mind like lightning. Raylina had seen Sadaen committing terrible crimes, even foreseen signs of her own death at his hands.
“Oh, no…” But she hadn’t believed her sister. No, she’d instead convinced her it was impossible, that there was no way her devoted mate would ever hurt her, let alone kill her or their daughter. Why hadn’t she listened?
Her own guilt rose like bile.
Envy? Had her jealousy over Raylina’s awe-inspiring mate made her miss seeing the truth? She wanted to brush aside the fear, but instead it hovered in her mind. The couple had been so happy and perfect for as long as she’d known them. And she’d dreamed of having someone love her in that all-consuming way. But now… Now she could see how that same love could destroy as well as nurture.
And if Raylina’s visions about her death were real, then were the ones about her daughter true as well? Sadrina, their small daughter, who was now alone in the world, was she in danger? Would Sadaen harm her?
Jumping up, she grabbed the only weapon in sight, a long ceremonial dagger, a scytari designed in bone and metal. She rushed through the royal chambers only to find the child in Pahele’s arms, sad but safe. The second demon king held Sadrina like a precious burden.
But surely Sadrina would be happier among the angels. Happier and safer. “I would care for Sadrina like she was my own.”
Pahele’s gaze met hers once, holding for a long moment. Then he looked back down at the girl on his lap. With a shake of his head, the decision was made.
Part of her wanted to argue, but the truth was everywhere around her. Sadrina’s black skin marked her as more demon than angel, and she would not be accepted by the others no matter who her mother was. She would stay here. Pahele would protect her.
Pahele’s red gaze caught her again. “He is out there. His suffering must be stopped.”
She nodded. If Raylina’s visions had been right, then Sadaen was to blame for her sister’s death. But even with the thoughts in her mind, it seemed impossible. Part of her was torn with sympathy for Sadaen. He believed he could change destiny. He was wrong of course. Even beings with power like his couldn’t avoid the Creator’s will.
Pahele rocked the child on his lap and whispered, “It’s time for you to take up your duty. Your fellow angels would judge his choices too harshly. You know where his actions come from and still you will judge him too.”
What did he mean? She didn’t take orders from Pahele. Her kind only existed to keep his kind in check. The air whooshed out of her lungs. “You mean…”
“Yes. He must be stopped.”
She shivered at the thought of facing Sadaen in battle. He was so powerful and ancient. But she was Tol’daen. It was her duty to rein in the most powerful when the time came for such justice. So what if she’d never been called. So what if he was the most powerful, most terrifying being she’d ever met… This was her duty.
An impossible duty. There was no way she could stop Sadaen. As the youngest Tol’daen, she’d never been sent after anyone.
“Delay will not make the duty easier.”
She felt the rightness of Pahele’s whispered words. Knew it was true destiny for her to be the one to still Sadaen’s rage and soothe his pain. But in that moment, while she was still so confused by everything that had passed, she’d give about anything to have it fall to any one of the other angels.
With a final nod from Pahele, she left Hell to seek his brother and do whatever it took to bring him peace.
Finding Sadaen was far easier than she’d expected.
His dark magic rippled out across the realms like tides. And in the center of his maelstrom waited complete and utter devastation. She found him standing still as a statue with his immense red and black wings whipping out behind him. His black power twisted outward in search of any remaining life, and it found none.
She knew this place, knew what it had been, and would have been if given enough time to grow and bloom… The newly risen holy place had been torn back down to the earth.
Raylina had cherished and nurtured every plant and carefully formed every stone. This was to be a shrine and refuge for her new holy order, the Trinity. Seeing the destruction…
Icy rage filled her. Not only was her sister’s dream destroyed but so were the devout people who had followed her.
And in the middle of it all stood Sadaen.
“You bastard.” The second she reached Sadaen she released all her anger on him, striking his impassive face. “How could you ruin everything she believed in? You claimed to care for her, to love her, to have lived and breathed for her, and it was all a lie.” In the face of all the death and destruction, it was far easier to see him killing Raylina than it was to remember him loving her.
His face dipped, bringing his dead gaze into view. There was no love in those eyes. No care for anything or anyone. A simmering hate was the only sign of life.
She wanted to offer compassion, but surrounded by the inky black death he’d brought and freed in this land, how could she? He’d turned a place of beauty into a pit and love into dead gray ash.
Turning his back on her, he studied the surroundings, and as he did, a dark satisfaction was clear by his slight smirk. Not only had he done all this, but he was pleased by the results of his evil.
The cool bone handle of Raylina’s scytari chilled her palm. Her own powers ached at the rightness of what must be done. He had to be stopped. Only her kind could stop one like him. Cool white light burst from her skin. Her wings found air, and her true form came forth.
Surging toward him, with the holy blade ready, she attacked.
Sadaen turned and caught her by the throat. With her blade sunk to the hilt, he held her trapped against his body while his blood seeped between them.
Captured and helpless, she could do nothing but stare into his fathomless gaze.
“Someday you shall kill me. But not this day. These men you would avenge, those who swore to honor Raylina above all, they killed her and will pay with every last drop of their blood. While you hunt me, I shall hunt them.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead before throwing her violently away. “Let the hunt begin.”
Then, in a nightstorm of black power, he was gone.
Mitguard, Mortal Earth, 10,000 years later
Finally, the forgotten daughter, young Sadrina, would succeed where she, Delyna, had failed so many times. In the deep of the dark woods, surrounded by old trees and older magic, Sadrina faced Sadaen and held all the power needed to finally send the bastard to his eternal rest.
How many times had she faced him and failed? Too many to count.
Now it didn’t matter. So what if she wasn’t the one to take him down? All that mattered was his death.
Yet the moment came. And then passed.
Sadrina spoke quietly and then turned away, leaving Sadaen whole and hale, without even raising a hand against the homicidal demon who was her father. How could this be? How could he walk away from justice so easily?
Time and again. Did the trail of death in his wake mean nothing?
The deep seething rage that had kept her on the hunt rose within her. Blind with the unfairness of his strength and despair over her eternity of failures, she swept forward from the darkness. Her attack was swift, the collision solid.
But he was unmoved. His arms became a prison. Like so many times before, she’d failed. Tears of frustration burned but didn’t fall.
With one hand, he painfully unarmed her, tearing her scytari away and holding her so she couldn’t reach the long swords at her side.
Then the world melted, twisted from dark to black and then back to a dim glow promising the coming sun.
The place she knew. Her villa, built on the site of Raylina’s shrine, reformed into as much of the memory as she could restore. In a way it was fitting. He could kill her here. She sagged in his arms expecting the worst.
“Sweet Lyna, I surrender.”
She blinked up into his face dumbly. Surely she hadn’t heard right. He would never give up, had told her so thousands of times. Then the truth tickled up. Only one thing would stop his need to kill. He must have finally ended the holy order he’d sworn to destroy. “You’ve killed them all.”
He laughed. “No, I’m afraid the monks apparently breed better than I can hunt. The church that killed Raylina lives on.” His grip loosened, shifting her one way and then the other. Taking all her weapons, he threw them off to the side until she felt naked before him. Only then did he set her free enough to put air between them. “I tire of the fight between us.”
She was still baffled and wary. “What do you suggest?”
“I’m ready to be judged. I propose that you kill me, or at least do your damnedest to end my life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If the Creator wants me dead, you’ll succeed. If not, you will fail. Either way, I will not lift a hand in my defense.” His lips quirked up on one side. “In fact I will give you three unmet attempts. But if I survive all three attempts, then we will be done with this thing between us. Do you agree?”
“You lie like the devil you are. You would stand there with nothing to gain and let me kill you? I don’t believe it. It’s nothing more than some new trick.”
His eyes widened for a moment in surprise. “You are an untrusting one, aren’t you, angel?”
“I’ve followed you for too many lifetimes to be anything else. Now answer my question. What do you have to gain?”
His fingers brushed her jaw, thumb rubbing over her lower lip in a quick caress that had her flinching and jumping back from the fiery touch. Only then did he answer. “If you fail to kill me, I win your body, your passion. Three times you can try. Three times I will lay claim my prize.”
“And if you die under the first attack?”
“Then it is as it should be, and we will both finally discover peace.”
“Death for you.” And what for her? Hunting Sadaen had become the only meaning in her life. What would she do if he did die? How would she go on?
“Do you agree?”
The deal was dangerous and possibly costly, but far too good to pass up. “You will not protect yourself?” If not, then she could finally kill him and move on to something, anything, else. Even if she could imagine no other life, there had to be something better than battle after battle and failure after failure.
He shrugged, his claw-tipped hands out to the side. “If you agree, then I will do nothing in my own defense.”
“Then I agree.” Awakening her powers, she summoned her weapons, scytari back in its sheath and one long sword to each hand.
Sadaen felt something he hadn’t felt in a very long time—hope. No matter the outcome of the crazy bargain, it would prove a change in what had become a desperately stagnant life. Not just for him, but for her also.
He watched Lyna as she circled and forced his muscles to remain passive. The hesitation and distrust in her eyes didn’t fit with her persistent personality. Like a determined hound, she’d bit at his heels at every turn, but now with a free pass to attack without retaliation … now she balked. Why?
She circled him, and with each step, her eyes glinted harder. Anger? Delight? Sheer stubborn willpower? Whatever it was running through her heart and mind, it built like a storm and soon enough would be free.
His heart pounded in anticipation. Battle with Lyna brought him to life like nothing else could. Maybe that was why he’d continued to antagonize her? Maybe he needed her fire to remind him to breathe?
Did anyone offer a similar thrill?
No one. Just Lyna. In the last few centuries, he hadn’t even bothered to seek out others. Lyna had become his only connection to the world, his only connection to another living being. Without her, he was left brooding in his dead home among, but apart from, the mortals. Alone until the next monk turned up. Alone until Lyna tried to save the fool. Alone.
But not now. Here was another battle, another moment to breathe in her fire.
Lyna was his sustenance. And here he was letting her kill him. He met her flashing gaze and offered the grin tickling at the edge of his mind.
Then her hesitation was gone. Like lightning from a clear sky, she struck. Her blades cut air and flesh alike. In a matter of seconds, she’d landed a dozen deadly hits, each deeper than the last.
Then the pain washed over him stealing his breath and calling out to his magic. Clamping his jaw against the agony, he locked his legs, forcing his body to remain upright while a dozen more strikes demanded payment in blood.
Through weakness and pain, he endured. How much more could he take? Another strike? Another dozen? Another thousand?
A deep slash to his right thigh sent him teetering off his resolve. Falling to his knees, he took another slash to the shoulder. This time the blade lodged against bone in a blinding wave of pain.
Lyna let out a scream and jerked the blade loose, only to have the sword snap like a twig. A blade intended to survive eternity, broken in two on Sadaen’s body. She hurled it away and stared in awe at the bloody mess before her.
This dying flesh was Sadaen. Her duty was nearly complete. So why did the triumph feel hollow? She wanted him, needed him, dead. Finally she was about to be free. Why did her chest ache at the thought of facing a world without Sadaen in it?
He blinked at her.
Not complete yet. Moving behind him, she placed Raylina’s scytari blade across Sadaen’s thick neck. “May you find peace in the Creator’s waiting arms.” She drew the blade in a long deep cut, letting his poison blood pour over her hand.
She meant to push him gently to the side, but when her fingers cupped his bloody shoulder, the warmth there burned her into stillness. His flesh and blood were fire hot. The connection between their skins burned like molten lava. His heat on her cool skin produced steam. Moments passed, or was it eons?
During his last breaths, she stayed there, connected to him, honoring the great leader and warrior he’d been before his mate’s death.
Then he covered her hand with his huge one. The heat from his body burst up her arm setting fire to her body. His blood red gaze captured her. The angle revealed his healing throat.
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